From Sydney 2008 to Madrid 2011: International meeting for youth ministry leaders

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Youth ministry leaders from all over the world came together in Rome from 3 to 5 April 2009, on the invitation of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, for the conference “From Sydney 2008 to Madrid 2011”. It was the first international meeting in preparation for the event in Madrid, and it was an important opportunity for assessment and reflection. The organising committees from Spain and Australia were present, together with delegates from around seventy countries and thirty five communities, associations and Catholic youth movements, with a total of around one hundred and fifty participants.

The sessions began on Friday 3 April with an introductory speech by Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The cardinal pointed out that “World Youth Days have become providential catalysers in pastoral ministry in the Church for the younger generations, and play an invaluable role of guidance, inspiration and encouragement […] World Youth Days have brought about a new generation of youth who are capable of going against the tide with respect to the dominant culture”. “Over the course of the years – he continued – WYDs have become ‘laboratories of youth ministry’. It is also due to WYD that a new generation of youth ministers has emerged that know how to respond to the real problems of the youth of our times”. “The word ‘provocation’ – he concluded – is a good description of the pastoral challenge that WYD presents to the Church. It reminds us that the pastoral ministry of the younger generations is not an appendix to the ordinary pastoral ministry of the Church, but is at the centre, the core”.

This was followed by an analysis of the main pastoral benefits of WYD 2008 at the local level given by Cardinal George Pell. He pointed out that there was an increase in vocations. He said that in New Zealand, the national seminary had practically doubled its intake of seminarians. There has also been an increase in Australia, a tendency that they had already noted during the preparations for WYD. This was a clear sign that good work was being done, not only logistically, but especially spiritually by involving parishes, dioceses, movements and associations, schools and families. The cardinal warned against over enthusiasm. WYD is not a magical formula. Preparations must be serious and must be in the service of evangelisation. He then spoke about a noticeable transformation: Australia today looks at the Church with different eyes. Many people have returned to it, not only young people, and their faith has been strengthened. Even non-Catholics look at the Church with different eyes and that is very important.

Bishop Anthony Fisher, auxiliary bishop of Sydney, gave the initial results of a survey commissioned by the local organising committee on the impact of WYD 2008 on the Australian participants. These are the main findings:

  • Seven out of ten people consider the experience to be one of the best in their lives ( the most notable parts of it were the Vigil, the Way of the Cross and the Final Mass);
  • it was important for the young people to discover the universal Church and to share their faith with other youth, and they now wish to live their faith more seriously and deeply;
  • many young people are now determined to be more considerate of others and to be engaged in various kinds of service; some have found their priestly vocation;
  • WYD has brought about notable renewal at parish and diocesan level.

Then, with a lively medley of pictures and data, Danny Casey, executive director of the Australian Committee, presented the delegates with an organisational assessment of the event in Sydney.

The afternoon session of Friday began with accounts of four experiences of youth ministry around the world. They were delivered by Sr. Eileen McCann, United States, Rev. Salvatore Niciteretse, Burundi, Jessica Joy Candelario, Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Youth Desk, and Rev. Nicolò Anselmi, director of youth pastoral services of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. The experiences represented very different situations that were united in their vision of WYD as a driving force for regular youth ministry.

Rev. Eric Jacquinet, head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity Youth Section, concluded the day’s sessions with a reflection on WYD and youth ministry in the Church. World Youth Day was a prophetic intuition on the part of John Paul II. It is far more than an event, but is really a personal and community experience that brings the person of Jesus to the centre of the faith and lives of young people. The entire pastoral programme of WYD is directed towards an encounter with Jesus in the Church. Young people are called to walk together to meet Jesus and set out on pilgrimage along the roads of the world, together experiencing the joy of faith, and in a certain sense reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus.

On Saturday 4 April we started the path of preparation for WYD in Madrid 2011. “Spain evangelized and evangelizing Spain, this is the way forward. Do not neglect this mission which ennobled your Country in the past and is the bold challenge for the future” (John Paul II, Madrid, 4 May 2003): these words that John Paul II spoke when he visited Spain for the last time, were at the centre of the talk given by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, archbishop of Madrid, when he addressed the one hundred and fifty delegates to tell them of the significance of WYD for the Church in Spain. Unlike Australia, the Gospel has resounded in Spain since its origins, and there has been great vitality in the faith. It is the birthplace of numerous vocational paths, yet it, like the rest of Europe, has a great need to renew its Christian roots. We must go out again and proclaim the Gospel, the Cardinal concluded, and take on the task of the new evangelisation by taking Christ to those places where he is unknown. This is one of the main challenges of the next WYD.

Most Reverend César Augusto Franco Martínez, auxiliary bishop of Madrid and president of the organising committee, outlined the central elements of the path of preparation for the 26th WYD, using the magisterium of Benedict XVI as a unifying thread. He pointed out that we must always remember that each World Youth Day is the fruit of a long external and internal path. That is why “an essential element in preparation should be the celebration of faith that introduces young people to the mystery of the liturgy and the Christian mysteries”, and the catecheses should be seen as “an element of faith education” to help young people to find the truth in Jesus Christ. Secondly, preparation should be guided “towards a conviction that should grow in young Christians that they have within them the dynamic power of the future. As Saint Paul said, ‘the truth does not deceive us’ […] As key players in the life of the Church and in WYD in particular, the truth they hold in their hearts will radiate out to their friends and contemporaries. Bishop Franco warned that “we should emphasise that this speaks of God’s ‘dynamic’, and it seeks to reach out to the whole world starting with us”. Finally, WYD must help young people to experience the joy of faith and to show them the true meaning of celebration. “It is the Church being experienced as a communion of relationships in Jesus Christ […] For this reason, it is important that we should animate everything from this life experience that Jesus Christ created among his members and that young people in particular, once they discover it, want to be part of it”. Young people need to be accompanied as they discover God’s love, present in the Church, and introduced to the commitment of love for others, also in the concrete terms of ecclesial communion in service and solidarity.

Reverend Javier Igea López-Fando, representing the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, described the situation of youth ministry in Spain. He admitted that it is not always easy, but that they were determined to use the perspectives and opportunities being presented by World Youth Day. Two young people spoke of their experiences in attempting to be “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith”

On Saturday afternoon the Spanish committee presented their initial projects to welcome WYD to Madrid. They are working on these so that this can be the best WYD possible. The delegates then addressed the committee and offered their suggestions, pastoral and practical ideas, and observations from the experience in Sydney. There was a lively discussion that touched on many points. Attention was given to the question of the participation of young people from Africa, South America, Asia and disadvantaged countries. Young people from all over the world should have the opportunity of experiencing WYD.

The sessions continued with a presentation by Bishop Josef Clemens of the Pontifical Council for the Laity of the Message from Pope Benedict XVI to young people on the occasion of the 24th World Youth Day. He reminded us of the themes for WYD 2009, 2010 and 2011 which are contained in the Message, and pointed out the path of instruction that the Holy Father proposed to young Christians in order to prepare for the event in Madrid that refers to “the three theological virtues: hope, charity and faith. As the French poet Charles Péguy wrote, if the three virtues are like three sisters, the youngest one, hope, leads the other two by the hand. This is undoubtedly why our path is beginning with hope”, a subject that is very dear to Pope Benedict XVI, and to which young people are particularly sensitive. They are the first victims of the “crisis in hope” that is so diffuse nowadays. Bishop Clemens continued, “the mission of the Church is therefore to restore to youth that which is vital for them: the ability to go forward, to be involved, to study in preparation for their future and the future of the world”, and to become in their turn “witnesses of hope”.

At the end of the afternoon, Cardinal Ryłko closed the conference sessions and spoke of the importance of the role of the national leaders of youth ministry. “Our experience of these few days was inspired by the Pentecost Cenacle, that is, the experience of a very young Church two thousand years ago, of a missionary Church that exploded with missionary zeal right to the ends of the earth, an experience of the Church that listens to the Holy Spirit. […] What is the Holy Spirit saying to the Church at this moment in time? The Holy Spirit calls the Church to the same mission as always: to evangelise, and in particular to evangelise the younger generations. How many times have we heard over the past two days that the evangelisation of youth is an undisputed priority in the life of the Church!” He then recalled Pope John Paul II’s intuition that opened the way for WYD and his trust in young people at a time in history when they were viewed with diffidence. In speaking about the Cross being entrusted to youth twenty five years ago on Easter Sunday, he said that: “it was a prophetic gesture […] Today the story of the WYD Cross is dotted with real miracles of grace and conversion. […] Thanks to this Cross, WYD is a continual event in the Church because wherever the WYD Cross goes, there it is World Youth Day”.

With these words still fresh, on Sunday morning 5 April the delegates attended Palm Sunday Mass presided by Benedict XVI in Saint Peter’s Square, with the celebration of the 24th World Youth Day and the handover of the WYD Cross from the Australian to the Spanish youth. It was a significant and emotional moment that was a material sign of the Sydney youth handing on the baton to the youth of Madrid. Once again the path of World Youth Day was marked out by the simple Cross, the hope that comes from the risen Christ.

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